Access to voting under attack

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Now that Republicans have found out that too many people have been voting contrary to their views, they are on a mission to make it much more difficult for those people to vote.

Now that Republicans have found out that too many people have been voting contrary to their views, they are on a mission to make it much more difficult for those people to vote.

You think that might be an exaggeration of what is happening around the country with these new voter identification laws, but it is no mere hype.

Republican legislators and governors around the country now want to enact new rules for voting – ostensibly to curb voter fraud – that would make going to the polls a bit more difficult.

We’ve seen this before, in Southern cities in the unyielding grip of Jim Crow, and in Northern cities where even dead people were afforded the vote before Blacks. Back before the Voting Rights Act was enacted, states and municipalities had Black voters run a gauntlet before they could vote. At first, being Black was a simple enough disqualifier, and then it was land ownership, or education, or a poll tax or a civics examination. That those qualifiers were not always extended to white voters was not the point, especially in an era where the final deterrent to voting included lynching.

But the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was supposed to change all of that, and it did, grudgingly, to the point where in 2006 it was argued that the act didn’t need renewed because we had solved all of our voting bias problems. We didn’t, and the act was renewed in 2006 for 25 years.

But that doesn’t mean that the forces who sought to have the act expire would stop there. Now they are behind the rollback of voting rights that would force every voter to come to the polls with a photo identification card. In Illinois, that could require a birth certificate, Medicare card and a Social Security Card.

Think it can’t happen here? Well, it has already happened in neighboring Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation that will require voters to show photo identification before they can vote. A voter ID law has already been passed in Texas, awaiting that governor’s signature. Similar bills are being debated in Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina and New Hampshire.

It is a national problem, but it is a state issue, with state legislatures (particularly those controlled by Republicans) carrying the ball. Advocates say each state has a right to determine voting requirements, and they are worried about fraudulent votes. But there is little doubt that the real motive is voter suppression, and making it more difficult to vote, especially for poorer and elderly voters, could tip an election.

Rev. Jesse Jackson is trying to make noise about the campaign to suppress the vote. He calls the new laws an insidious attack on the Voting Rights Act, and he is right. In Illinois that attack seems to be rebuffed – with a Democratic governor and a Democrat-controlled legislature – but neighboring states, contested states in the 2012 election, could be affected.

We should all be alarmed that legislatures are voting to restrict the right to vote. We should show that alarm by not only speaking up in opposition, but also registering to vote in record numbers. We have to use the gains from the Voting Right Act to secure our right to vote, by to voting out those legislators and governors.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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